Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Stomp Tokyo: A look back at ten years of specialness

Back in 1996, the idea of reviewing cheesy movies and posting those reviews on the World Wide Web was a fairly novel one. The Internet was still a pretty small pond at that point and anything even mildly remarkable made the rounds pretty quickly, so within about three years Stomp Tokyo had been mentioned in The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, and The Wall Street Journal, not to mention dozens of "cool site of the day" sites of the type that don't really exist anymore. Nowadays with hundreds (thousands?) of movie review sites out there, the only things that make Stomp Tokyo stand out are our stunning good looks, our rapier wits, and the fact that we've been around for a freaking decade. Allow me to shake my virtual fist at the Web's whippersnappers for a few minutes while I recount some of Stomp Tokyo's greatest hits (in no particular order) with excerpts.

Twins of Evil: Our first review (as far as I can recall). I'd like to think that our writing has improved somewhat since we penned this, but even if it hasn't I can at least take comfort in the fact that our movie selection was dead-on from the start. I mean, Peter Cushing and twin Playboy playmates in a vintage vampire movie -- this is high-grade cheese.

[Twins of Evil] makes the most of the title characters. They get plenty of screen time, most of it in low-cut period dresses and flimsy nightgowns. "Play to your strengths" seems to be the motto of this film. Cushing carries most of the serious acting weight, and the girls mostly scream, make evil grimaces with fake fangs, and generally flounce around looking cute.

Godzilla vs King Ghidrah: It took us more than a month after launch to review something in which a character actually stomps Tokyo. Scandalous! Believe it or not, we had enough readers by that point that someone actually called us on it.
If you judge this film by the monsters (and what Godzilla fan doesn't?), this is our favorite movie of the new bunch. Though the story often has all the logic of a fever dream, the special effects are so inspired that this film is enormously enjoyable. From the obligatory scenes of the Japanese army mobilizing, to the final battle which destroys Tokyo's (then brand new) City Hall, Godzilla vs. King Ghidrah is one of the finest examples of that form of art known as the Godzilla movie.

Hmm. Reading that actually makes me want to see that movie again.

The Lonely LadyThe Lonely Lady: After seeing it described as "the worst movie ever made" on an AOL message board (those were the days!), I bullied Scott into renting this movie with me. Judging from the vitriol in our review it may well have been the worst thing we'd seen up to that point. By now, however, its reputation is mostly undeserved - this movie has way too much entertainment value to be considered the worst flick of all time. (The most dreadful movie of all, we've long maintained, is the one that wastes your time by merely being boring.)
Zadora's acting has not much improved since she appeared in the classic Santa Claus Conquers the Martians 20 years earlier. As a matter of fact, the actress she reminds us of most is Kathy Ireland, whom the boys at MST3K described as being able to portray one emotion: dull surprise. Well, Pia was Kathy before Kathy. As Jerilee, Zadora gives dull surprise a workout you would not believe. The actor who got Jerilee pregnant refuses to have anything to do with her? Dull surprise. A weird Euro-trash couple proposition her sexually in exchange for producing her script? Dull surprise. And a producer compares her script to her aborted pregnancy? Dull surprise.

For a while after this review I had something of a fixation on Pia Zadora and even created the very first Internet fan site for her. (Occasionally imitated but never duplicated.) It's still around in all its purple 1990s glory.

Nads Infomercial: This may be the single funniest thing Scott and I ever wrote together. I say that with all the false modesty I can muster.

That's when Sue Ismiel, mother to Naomi, Natalie, and Nadine, decided that her motherly duties extended far beyond giving all of her daughters names that begin with "n." According to Sue's oldest daughter Naomi, "My mum decided to become a mad scientist and develop something." Apparently Sue's strategy was to mix random household substances together to see if the combination would remove hair. A similar process is used to create mixed drinks. The difference, however, is that Sue tested her concotions on her own children. So later in the program, when a big deal is made out of the fact that Nads is not tested on animals, keep in mind that they did human testing first. Besides, isn't it illegal to test your Nads on animals? Even in Australia?

Nukie - When people ask me to name the worst movie I've ever seen, I usually use Nukie as an example. Again, there's way too much goofiness going on here to cite it as the worst movie ever, but it is ridiculously painful to watch. Mere mortals burn at its touch.

As critics, we have to make some hard decisions. One of the hardest is to decide which is worse: the movie itself, or the fact that it took the cooperation of two countries to produce it. On the one hand, we feel it safe to say that test animals exposed to repeated viewings of Nukie would develop brain tumors. Our deep-seated feelings about animal abuse (and our lack of credit at the pet store) prevent us from performing these experiments. On the other hand, the sheer amount of money it must have taken to pay Steve Railsback's nightly bar tab, when weighed against the income of Nukie's assuredly miserable video sales, would probably cause even the most hardened Hollywood accountant to shed bitter, bitter tears.

Star GodzillaStar Godzilla - From the very beginning Scott and I were determined to use the Web as our personal psychology lab, and Star Godzilla was our first major experiment. Using an unmade Godzilla project as the seed of an idea for a fictional movie we wrote a review of Star Godzilla - the giant monster movie every kaiju fan wanted to see but could never quite get his hands on - and released the article on April 1st 1998. Star Godzilla is the greatest contribution to Internet misinformation we could ever hope to create, and to this day we get e-mail asking us about how to obtain a copy.

The model cities are made of cardboard, and they aren't often stomped, but rather the destruction is limited to burning. The few exceptions to this (like the mansion that Godzilla stomps at one point, apparently some kind of landmark) look like they were stolen from some kid's model scale train set-up. As a matter of fact, we think you can hear that kid crying just off camera a couple of times.
I was particularly proud of the job we did exercising our primitive Photoshop skills (version 3 baby!) to remove the human figure from the shot from Inframan that we used in that review.

Star Godzilla was not the first April Fools review we wrote (that would be The Dellon Godhead, an extremely in-jokey fictional crossover episode of Doctor Who and The New Avengers) but it was certainly the most successful. We couldn't resist repeating the experiment in subsequent years, usually with a different twist - see Director's Cut, Nature Trail to Hell, A Very Star Wars Christmas, and Goliath and the Cheerleaders. In 2003 we pulled down our own front page, replacing it with the declaration that Hollywood obviously wasn't going to make any more bad movies, so it was time to quit. (If you fell for that one, give yourself a good flogging.) In 2004 we reviewed a film that actually exists but that is so obscure and bizarre that people would assume we made it up. That was the last year we pulled an April Fools stunt - they're so commonplace on web sites nowadays that it seems pointless to try. Or maybe we're just waiting for you to let your guard down . . . .

Rutger Hauer fan backlash - Our review of Nighthawks ended with the line "Plus it's got Rutger Hauer before he started to suck." The Web being a pretty small place at that point, it actually drew some attention from an online Rutger Hauer fan club and the e-mails poured in. Hauer devotees asked us how we could malign one of the world's greatest thespians and invited us to stick our review up our you-know-whats.

Needless to say, we had a ton of fun writing this response.

The Indian Superman - we looked a long time before we found this one, and we're so glad it eventually landed in our laps. When we go to our rewards, we feel sure we'll be remembered for providing the Web's first detailed synopsis of just what this film is all about.

But hey, we don't really care about Superman and all that flying jazz, right? Instead of showing Superman doing anything, uh, super, the film immediately dumps in a romantic subplot. Shekhar goes to Bombay and looks up Gita, who lives in a hostel for young female professionals and works as a reporter for the local Daily Times. Shekhar shows up at the hostel and, under the guise of looking for Gita, begins peeking in random doors to see what women really do when they're alone. It turns out that they get dressed and slow dance. Shekhar seems fascinated by this, which really makes us scratch our heads. He's Superman! If he's really into this kind of thing, why doesn't he just fly to the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders' dressing room and put his X-ray vision to good use?

Star Wars Holiday SpecialThe Star Wars Holiday Special - A classic. One of our most enduring and appreciated reviews, and really at the heart of that into which Stomp Tokyo evolved.

And just when you think this video couldn't hurt you any more unless it popped out of the VCR at high speed and hit you straight in the face, Carrie Fisher begins to sing. Yes, she sings. And for a second you'll think, "Hey, they're dubbing her," and then you'll think, "No, if they were dubbing her it would sound better."

It's a movie that should have been good but wasn't, a picture that fails so spectacularly and publicly that its creators spend the rest of their lives trying to pretend it didn't happen. God bless 'em. Every one.

Of course, I've ignored a lot of the things that made Stomp Tokyo's first decade great: our stupendous roster of departments and sister sites, the various side projects (like Reel Shame and B-Movies Quarterly) that distracted us from the core site but were fun nevertheless, subjecting our friends to hideous movies in the name of journalism, and of course a sensational group of readers whose praise, criticism, and outright threats have inspired us to keep writing. Please stick around for the next decade. It should be fun.

If you have a favorite Stomp Tokyo review or memory I didn't mention here, feel free to share it in the comments or send some e-mail to theguys at stomptokyo dot com. We're hoping to revive the Reader Mail page, so make it good and weird.


Blogger Zack Handlen said...

Many happy returns, Chris.

6:25 AM  

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